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Making portals work: Enterprise portal services outlook

This article appears in the issue Nov/Dec 2003 [Volume 12, Issue 10]
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Enterprise portals are rapidly being adopted to address the information and application access requirements of knowledge workers. Despite a slowdown in the economy and IT spending, growth in the worldwide enterprise portal services (EPS) market far outpaces the growth of most IT services markets. Service providers are rushing to the opportunity, breathing new life into their knowledge management (KM) practices.

To better understand this swiftly unfolding opportunity, IDC reviewed the capabilities of 18 IT services firms and reached the following conclusions:

  • Most services firms plan on increasing the number of skilled staff by training existing employees or hiring additional consultants. Professionals with business skills are most needed by services companies this year.
  • Key industry segment targets include discrete manufacturing, government, process manufacturing, banking and other financial services.
  • Providers must address the issues of corporate governance, sponsorship and ownership to allow portal implementations to shift successfully from the department to the enterprise and beyond the firewall (suppliers and buyers).
  • The ultimate success of any EPS engagement is determined by whether users find portals helpful in enhancing their decision making and productivity. As enterprise portal engagements rise in scope and complexity, they require that service providers develop a wide range of both business and IT services skill sets and resources.
  • Service providers must integrate business process management (BPM) capabilities with portal offerings to provide effective and efficient use of corporate information and applications. Service providers need not only business and technology expertise, but also strong domain industry capabilities to successfully deliver enterprise portal solutions.

The IDC examined the EPS competitive market by interviewing the following service organizations: Accenture, Agency.com, Answerthink, Atos Origin, Avanade, BearingPoint (formerly KPMG Consulting), Cap Gemini Ernst & Young (CGE&Y), Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), Deloitte Consulting, Dimension Data, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), HP Services, Hitachi Consulting, IBM Global Services, Inforte, Novell, SBI and Co. (SBI) and Wipro Technologies. The study provides insight into such areas such as vendor revenue, services engagement types, client targets, headcount, portal implementations and partnerships with portal ISVs. Some observations found through the study are listed in the sidebar below (Competitive landscape and analysis).

The market

Enterprise portal software and services make up a growing market opportunity because they help organizations overcome the barriers of what IDC has characterized as today's "complexity crisis." That crisis manifests itself through a continuous surge of disparate and sometimes irrelevant information sources, as well as investments in disparate and irrelevant integrated productivity tools. It threatens the productivity and efficiency of knowledge workers.

Enterprises attempting to tackle their own knowledge management complexities are adopting enterprise portals as a staging point to address their information access and administration requirements. Enterprise portals software is still at a relatively early stage of development and has many shortcomings in terms of its technology, but its vision, promise and need make the market an exciting opportunity for both users and providers of services and software.

That promise is driving market innovation and expanding the role of enterprise portals to enable not only personalized, secure, single sign-on access to content and applications, but also business process and IT management. The underlying vision of the enterprise portal is to empower and strengthen the relationship between the stakeholder (employee, buyer, supplier, customer, regulator or any constituent) and the enterprise, resulting in a mutually dynamic, productive experience that creates enterprise value. Enterprise portals essentially build dynamic bridges between stakeholders and enterprises.

Enterprise portal services are increasingly taking the center stage of the KM services ecosystem, providing a platform by which organizations can consolidate, expand and/or initiate KM programs and technologies.

Emphasis on governance

As portal implementations shift to the enterprise and beyond the firewall, the issues of corporate governance, sponsorship and ownership become critical. Not properly addressing those issues as they relate to people and processes can threaten the long-term success of an enterprisewide portal initiative. Because most portal initiatives start at the business unit level, wider enterprise initiatives require not only executive sponsorship and support, but also buy-in from the internal departments that will roll out such initiatives.

Proven methodologies and best practices will be critical success factors in helping enterprises achieve the proper organizational structure, the cross-functional/divisional coordination and communication, and business process alignment to support those initiatives.

The underlying success of any EPS engagement is ultimately determined by whether users find portals useful in enhancing their decision making and productivity. Therefore, selling employees on the benefits and potential uses of enterprise portals is critical. Such issues must be addressed during the planning and design stages, consistently reinforced throughout the duration of the portal engagement and regularly evaluated indefinitely. Because users have various backgrounds and responsibilities, it's important to conduct extensive analysis and modeling to understand user demographics, roles, tasks and responsibilities (current and future).

As enterprise portal engagements rise in scope and complexity, they will require that service providers develop a wide range of both business and IT services skill sets and resources. Although most services providers are focused on augmenting their technology expertise, such skill sets will not be enough to successfully satisfy customer needs. As portals evolve in enabling knowledge workers to perform and execute business processes, business skills and business process expertise will become vital competitive differentiators for service providers, especially for larger EPS engagements.

BPM's Value

Enterprise portals are being adopted to address the information and application access requirements of knowledge workers who are seeking rapid decision support capabilities as they complete projects throughout the day. To make corporate resources more useful, portal vendors offer personalized views into information and deliver collaborative capabilities so that teams of knowledge workers can consume and transform the information as needed. However, those corporate information sources are not always delivered in the context of a business process, requiring the employee to scour the portal for relevant resources. Service providers should integrate BPM capabilities into portals to offer more effective use of corporate knowledge and resources.

With increased BPM capabilities, content can be delivered in the context of a business process, rather than in information silos, and employees can interact as needed with appropriate applications. For example, application services will be combined with content in a single view to better suit the decision support requirements of a business user completing a task or project. The opportunities to provide more intelligent computing resources to the right people at the right time become possible through the integration of business processes and enterprise portal software.

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